Cause (Marketing) and Effect

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John Matejczyk, MUH•TAY•ZIK | HOF•FER
John Matejczyk, MUH•TAY•ZIK | HOF•FER

In a speech at the annual Clinton global Initiative conference last year, President Barack Obama gave a shout-out to SlaveryFootprint.org. This is what he said:

“And finally, every citizen can take action: by learning more; by going to the website that we helped create: SlaveryFootprint.org; by speaking up and insisting that the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the products we buy are made free of forced labor; by standing up against the degradation and abuse of women.” 

You couldn't ask for a more profound call to action.

With more than five million visits and counting from 214 countries, Slaveryfootprint.org has become an example of effective, modern cause marketing, for many reasons, but largely due to what it is not. It is not a TV spot or a billboard or an organized event like a rally or fundraising dinner with politicians and celebrities making speeches. Basically, it is not any of the things that cause marketing used to be. Rather, it is new type of direct marketing that reaches consumers online, in the home, and through a mobile app, inviting interaction, and it has plugged into the ever-expanding universe of social media.

People want to get involved in causes that matter to them. The old communication style provided a blast of information, but no connectivity to others. Direct marketing always has had an immediate approach, even in the old world of advertising, with calls to action; there's a response mechanism in direct marketing that's immediate, not generalized. Cause marketing online has adopted direct marketing approaches and takes them a step further; it allows individuals not only to take real, instantaneous action, it also helps them discover, through share-ability how they personally fit into a cause or movement.

Another key to the success of the Slaveryfootprint.org is that it does not assume that people care. Most marketers make the mistake of assuming that people will be interested in their message. They assume full attention, that consumers are sitting at the edge of their seats waiting to hear their frozen peas message. To the extent that for-profit marketers make this mistake, cause related marketers blunder one-hundred-fold. When they discuss pediatric aids, human trafficking, or cancer, they believe that the public simply needs to hear and see the truth and they'll respond. It just doesn't work that way. The world of cause marketing is just as cluttered and saturated as the world of for-profit marketing. Consumers put up their ad-shields blocking cause messages just as quickly as they do for-profit.

Based on the understanding that people fundamentally do not care, Slaveryfootprint.org had to be just as compelling, offbeat, beautiful, and engaging and create at least as much “wow” as any great for-profit marketing campaign. Consumers don't give charitable organizations a pass because they're were out to do good, which is what many cause marketers believe and thus fail to provide the same degree of excellence as truly creative advertising.

In the spirit of sharing, here are five suggestions for creating a successful cause marketing campaign:

1. Think direct. Provide people with tangible ways to engage and respond. Slaveryfootprint.org, for example, provides a downloadable app that allows users to go into stores, check in, and let brands know they care about the use of slaves in their supply chain. Website visitors can instantly send letters, too. It's all shareable. When people find out they have thirty-four slaves working for them, they often make a public confession. This is taking action, by spreading the word.

2. Focus. Boil the idea down to a single thought. The human brain is wired to take away one thing from an engagement, whether it's a conversation with someone, watching a movie, interacting with a digital experience, or watching a commercial. Slaveryfootprint.org wanted people to know that they have slaves working for them and they can find out how many.

3. No guilt. Don't pull the guilt lever. It's too often trotted out in cause marketing, and it's totally worn out. People find it easier nowadays to turn away when you show them gruesome pictures. Make your message approachable, make it OK, even entertaining to engage with it.

4. Be positive. Too many cause marketers are anti-consumerist and treat the marketplace as a villain. Avoid the overplayed “companies-are-evil.” If the world economy slows down, people spend less—on for-profit and nonprofit.

5. Be precise. It's important to raise consciousness, but it can be misleading if it's too generalized. In the case of Slaveryfootprint.org, the general view of slavery is the big-brand sweatshop. While there may be some issues there, it's not the issue. We're talking about out-and-out slavery in the supply chain, meaning many big brands don't know that the cotton bought on the open market comes from child slaves in Uzbekistan. Or the seafood industry buys shrimp from shrimp boats that use slaves.

Cause marketing is a serious business, and in a world that doesn't take too much seriously, you have to adapt, pursue novel approaches, tell a good story, be creative, have a sense of humor and, ultimately, get people to act.

John Matejczyk is a founding partner and Emmy award winning creative director at MUH·TAY·ZIK | HOF·FER.

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